Although David Ringler was unable to attend the National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA) 2014 Fall Educational Conference October 29-30 in La Jolla, California, he had an apparent impact. Ringler, NSSTA's first president, previously re-stated his original vision for NSSTA during NSSTA's 25th anniversary celebration in 2011:
"Although we do need to constantly be on the watch for legislative change, I still believe having a place where everyone and anyone can sit down with each other and discuss the issues and viewpoints regardless of beliefs is the most important reason for NSSTA. I have called it a common “talk table”, although I agree that is not exactly a very elegant term. If we can continue this tradition, there is no problem we cannot overcome."
Many industry participants, including some NSSTA members, have questioned whether NSSTA has lost sight of this original purpose and tradition. For the past several years, NSSTA's leadership has superimposed a political litmus test for membership, as well as for topics and speakers at its educational conferences. As one result, structured settlement industry participants with alternative issues, viewpoints, beliefs and educational interests have founded two other national structured settlement associations: the National Association of Settlement Purchasers (NASP) in 1996 and the Society of Settlement Planners (SSP) in 2000.
NASP and SSP Participation
Perhaps responding to Ringler's clarion call, NSSTA opened its members-only educational program in La Jolla by inviting NASP President Patricia LaBorde and SSP President Neil Johnson to speak.
LaBorde was featured on a Secondary Market Panel, moderated by John McCulloch, which also included Stephen Harris and Patrick Hindert as panelists. McCulloch's questions targeted primary market concerns such as the prevalence of secondary market transfers, consequences of transfer company advertising and secondary market discount rates. The resulting discussion captured the audience's undivided attention and hopefully will result in expanded educational dialogue between NSSTA and NASP to include shared political and business interests.
Johnson and current NSSTA President Kevin Silo jointly addressed "Industry Challenges", a panel discussion moderated by NSSTA President-elect Michael Goodman. Repeating portions of his SSP 2014 keynote speech, Johnson proposed the following solutions for achieving industry unity: 1) recognizing and accepting product diversity; 2) focusing on client and customer service; 3) identifying and pursuing permanent shared interests without necessarily agreeing on all issues; 4) engaging all perspectives to discuss industry problems and issues; 5) improving relationships among stakeholder groups; 6) promoting and practicing settlement planning not settlement selling.
Generational Change and Challenges
NSSTA and the primary structured settlement market face multiple challenges (see below) - perhaps none greater than succession. What new generation of distributors, or distribution channel(s), will emerge (and when) to replace and build upon the accomplishments of the pioneering generation (now in their 60s and 70s) who originated the structured settlement market in the late 1970s?
In addition to generating more than $140 billion of annuity premium, the legacy of NSSTA's retiring generation includes enactment of the existing structured settlement legislative framework: current IRC sections 104(a)(1) and (2) and 130 plus multiple state periodic payment of judgment statutes and (with NASP) enactment of IRC 5891 and the state protection statutes. More recently, however, NSSTA's aging leadership has focused on defense - with "protect and preserve" its principle mantra.
NSSTA attempted to addressed this generational succession issue at its Fall conference by juxtaposing panels featuring past NSSTA Presidents and "Next Generation" brokers. The impression that emerged: NSSTA and the primary market have reached an historic crossroads - with multiple stakeholders, issues and options, but no clear future direction.
Whatever next generation of NSSTA leaders emerges will face several challenges:
- Stagnant growth - Since achieving $6 billion of annual annuity sales in 2001, structured settlement premium growth has stagnated with 2013 sales totaling $5.1 billion.
- Polarized market(s) - NSSTA's leaders have been unable, and/or unwilling, to unify the structured settlement market(s) around such shared interests as: primary market growth; preservation of existing legislation; and consumer protection - which prioritizes maintaining promised periodic payments.
- Alternative business models - Can alternative structured settlement models (traditional defense vs. emerging plaintiff) continue to co-exist and collaborate?
- Complexity - Structured settlements represent a strategic product within the larger and more complex personal injury settlement planning (settlement planning) market.
- Product features - Will Pacific Life's recent private letter ruling encourage structured settlement annuity providers to expand their product offerings to include "equity-indexed" annuities and "hardship conversions"?
- Competition. Within the settlement planning market, the growth and leadership of other product and service providers has increasingly exceeded the growth and leadership of structured settlement participants.
- Success factors. To expand sales within the evolving settlement planning market, NSSTA's leaders must re-think and re-engineer historical success factors - backgrounds and skill sets; educational programs; business models; product enhancements; sales and marketing strategies.
The settlement planning market is knowledge-intense and increasingly Internet-based. To continue, and increase, their historical success within the evolving settlement planning market, NSSTA and its members must improve their knowledge management capabilities. One preliminary step is to identify and evaluate existing strategic knowledge. NSSTA and its members possess three primary types of strategic knowledge:
- Product knowledge - The "Tax Posse", the ACA summary, and even the Non-traditional Products presentation at NSSTA's Fall conference represent good examples of NSSTA's product knowledge. Perhaps more important, and more valuable, than explicit product knowledge, NSSTA members possess tacit (intuitive, experiential) knowledge of how structured settlements work. In the context of the secondary market, however, NSSTA member knowledge of its own product is arguably much weaker, and, therefore, incomplete and less valuable.
- Relationship knowledge - Much of NSSTA's Fall conference related to, and re-enforced, NSSTA's and NSSTA members' settlement planning relationship knowledge about and with: 1) plaintiff attorneys; 2) insurance associations; 3) insurance claims adjustors; 4) national consumer associations; 5) U.S. Congressional members; 6) MSA administrators; 7) SSP; and 8) NASP. In settlement planning, as in life more generally, it is not what you know but who you know that counts the most.
- Market knowledge - Compared with other settlement planning market segments, NSSTA (and NASP) appear to have developed and maintained more accurate market metrics including quarterly and annual premium and cases in total and for each member product provider. To further expand structured settlements into the settlement planning market, NSSTA and its members might begin to track additional metrics. For examples: what percentage of structured settlements are utilized to fund MSAs, SNTs and settlement trusts more generally. Which categories of structured settlement recipients are most likely to sell payment rights and why?
NSSTA conference speakers introduced multiple new marketing initiatives including:
- "NSSTA University" - NSSTA's Debbie Sink announced a new "NSSTA University" service whereby NSSTA will partner with any member to secure CE credits for member-sponsored educational seminars or insurance claims departments or law firms.
- CLM Survey Part II - In partnership with CLM Advisors, NSSTA's Marketing Committee summarized CLM Survey Part II (claims adjustors) of an eventual three part survey project. Part I surveyed claims executives. Part III will survey plaintiff attorneys. These surveys provide NSSTA members with valuable marketing tools for discussions with the audiences surveyed.
TOPICS AND SPEAKERS
- Introduction and Welcome - Eric Vaughn.
- Industry Challenges - Michael Goodman (Moderator), Kevin Silo, Neil Johnson.
- Next Gen Brokers - Louis Masry (Moderator), Kristen Chess, Ryan Garrison, Tony Robinson.
- Financial Issues for People with Disabilities - Sally Greenberg and Mark Perriello.
- AAJ Treasurer Elect - Elise Sanguinetti.
- MSA Professional Administration - Tom Adams (Moderator), Marques Torbert, Joe Anderson.
- Affordable Care Act - Jordan Bossler.
- Past NSSTA Presidents - Moderators (Kevin Silo; Eric Vaughn); Jeff Bowers, Len Blonder, Joe Costello, Mal Deener, Dan Durbin, Randy Dyer, Dan Finn, Patrick Hindert, John Machir, Henry Strong.
- Factoring Panel - John McCulloch (Moderator), Stephen Harris, Patrick Hindert, Patricia LaBorde.
- Non-Traditional Products - Erin Muller (Moderator), John Arendt, Ryan Jandreau, Jeff Reinhold, Chris Shumate, Ravi Vaswani.
- American Insurance Association - Peter Foley.
- CLM Survey Part II - Taylor Smith, Susan Clark, Jeff Livingston.
- Tax Posse - John McCulloch, Timothy O'Driscoll, Tom Ronce.
- NSSTA CE News - Erin Muller and Debbie Sink.
Congratulations to NSSTA and conference chairperson Erin Muller for re-establishing NSSTA's tradition of educational programs featuring speakers with multiple viewpoints on industry issues "regardless of beliefs". David Ringler and other structured settlement pioneers should feel gratified - and hopeful for NSSTA's future success.
For S2KM's reports about prior NSSTA educational conferences, see the structured settlement wiki.